“Take two bare knees, two rolled stockings, two flapping goloshes, one short skirt, one lipstick, one powder puff, 33 cigarettes, and a boy friend with flask. Season with a pinch of salt and dash of pep, and cover all with some spicy sauce, and you have the old-time flapper.”
“Then you have the real modern American flapper: Two bare knees, two thinner stockings, one shorter skirt, two lipsticks, three powder puffs, 132 cigarettes, and three boy friends, with eight flasks between them.”
– A disgruntled Magazine Writer, 1928
The 1920s were a conflicted time. The horrors of WWI had left a vast hole in the morale of the world and people were looking for change. Everyone wanted to forget the war and start being happy again. Wine, women, and songs were in order, but in America, Prohibition left the entire nation without the wine– at least without legal wine. Illegal bars and nightclubs popped up everywhere and a fun-loving culture sprang up inside them. Women had gained the vote, become movie stars, and learned to drive. Fashion soon reflected their new-found freedoms.
Some girls took this new lust for fun and freedom to an extreme: Flappers. The flapper’s dress was as straight as a lipstick tube on top. Designers enhanced the cylindrical shape with horizontal bands ruffles, beads, fur, and lace and long, swinging jackets lined with fur and velvet. She’d skip defining her waist and belt her dress low on her hips, sometimes even below her rear. Another of her favorite trends was to wear a long, sheer dress over a much shorter slip, creating a sexy, lingerie look.
The flapper is the ultimate symbol of female sexual freedom. She swings, she jives, she drinks, smokes, stays out all night, and proudly shows off her knees! In Victorian fashion, showing the ankle was almost as sexually overt as showing off breasts. Edwardian fashion brought a little relief, raising the hem to mid-calf level. For the majority of the population this was the trendy length until about 1926 when the all-night-long flappers took the hem to daring new heights. She wasn’t content only showing off her perfectly tanned ankles; she bared her leg clear up to her knees! Sheer, silky stockings became the thing to wear with flashy, brightly colored pumps. Patterned stockings with lacy peep-hole designs and curly embroidery stopped short at the knees, providing flashes of scandalous bare skin when a flapper strutted down the street.
It was all about flash in the booming 1920s. The American economy was picking up and everyone wanted a taste of the rich life. The curly Art Nouveau style transitioned into lux, geometric Art Deco style the way boyish figures replaced feminine curves. Jewelry was covered with bright stones, real or not. Platinum and white gold (or less-expensive silver and rhodium) flashed everywhere. Rivers of white/clear stones punctuated with sapphires, rubies, and emeralds dripped everywhere. If a girl couldn’t afford precious metals and gems, mail order catalogs were ready to supply her with an enormous selection of inexpensive costume jewelry, including bakelite and celluloid plastic charms in an infinite array of shapes. Opera-length pearl necklaces that dangled to the waist were a staple for every well-dressed woman’s wardrobe, flapper or not.
Gloves, hats, and stoles were still popular. Hats stopped being high-flying gauzy saucers perched on top of mounded hair and became deep buckets fitted closely around sleek bobs and heat-set waves. A felt cloche or jeweled headband decorated with platinum or silver pins, rhinestones, and feather plumes was perfect for a good night out on the town!
Ready to take flapper fashion from the page to real life? Click here to Recreate the Flapper Style!
All of the pictures in this article are linked to to sites detailing each section, so feel free to click and explore!
Further reading and research you might enjoy:
The photography of Edward Stiechen
The Culture of the 1920s at History.com
The extensive collection of 1920s fashion wisdom on Squidoo